Classic Doctor Who episodes were unfortunately being wiped in the ’60s and ’70s, as part of the BBC’s junking policy to make space for new programmes. In 1978, a miracle had happened in my hometown, thanks to lifelong fan, Ian Levine.
After hearing the news, Ian paid a visit to the former BBC Enterprises building at Villiers House (directly above Ealing Broadway station, Mainline and Tube, serving the Central and District lines) to find that an amazingly large haul of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton era film prints were on the brink of “total destruction” on precisely the same day. These film prints are all completed serials that were specially prepared for overseas broadcasting, and more importantly, the first three serials – An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, and The Edge of Destruction, or 100,000BC, The Mutants, and Inside the Spaceship, depending on your preferences! – were all among the cache.
Keeping all these episodes in safe custody at Villiers House has made the show’s legacy even more exciting, as Ealing, overall, was one of the original filming locations for a significant number of serials; notably The Enemy of the World (in which the building’s fire escape was used), Spearhead from Space (the Autons coming alive was filmed at the shop-front of a nearby department store), and also Survival, which we will explore further another time. Had Ian and/or archivist Sue Malden not been made aware of the discovery, we would have never seen the light of the day – from The Beginning DVD set to Mark Gatiss’ docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time. And how would us all fans be able to enjoy all these classics without the film prints in the archives? Being unable to see the Daleks’ spine-chilling debut would be an awful shame: it’d be less dramatic and cause some confusion, as off-air audio recordings (with linking narration) may be the only way to ‘hear’ what is actually going on.
“What a waste… What a terrible waste,” as the First Doctor would say of this kind of loss.
The 9-storey Villiers House has had a troubled few years after Irish developers, Glenkerrin, who planned major and controversial work across Ealing, went into administration in 2009. Nevertheless, we now have the earliest serials returned to the archives and fully restored, which is why I would personally honour Villiers House as a guardian of safekeeping, and of course, Ian Levine, the hero who tracked them down at the very last moment.